Because of my experiences as a pastor’s wife, I was drawn to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright story early in the presidential campaign. I researched the topic and wrote the article a few days before coverage of the pastor went mainstream. Minutes after publishing the piece, comments, death threats and personal messages started flooding in. Soon a full-fledged war was underway between the sensible and the senseless. People took sides, dug in their heels, and refused to back down. Six hundred or so comments later, my article looked like a battleground and I had acquired my first cyberstalker.
Trash talking flamers and psycho trolls
Blog trolls, kooks, flamers, and cyberstalkers are only a few of the terms used to describe individuals who love to make other people’s online experience a living hell. The Urban Dictionary defines a “blog troll” as,
“A depraved individual who sits in front of a computer all day and posts flames of an idiotic or pseudo-intellectual nature on public forums and private websites. Many of these people actually become emotional about what is said on the afore-said mediums and feel it is their duty to punish those who disagree with them.”
Psycho trolls and other Internet crazies love to argue, and they really don’t care what they argue about. They live to start trouble and make people feel uncomfortable.
Dealing with online harassment and threats
According to 2008 WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) statistics, email was the number one method Internet stalkers used to harass their victims. WHOA resolved seventy five percent of the cases reported by contacting the ISP, web host or site moderator. In the cases they were unable to resolve, victims were referred to law enforcement or an attorney.
Even if a person seems fairly harmless, busy people don’t want to waste time responding to unfruitful, stress-inducing arguments and debates. Most of us know how to avoid online hazards like viruses and spyware, but here are a few ways to keep Internet crazies at bay as well.
Don’t feed the need. Internet crazies are addicted to the chase. Drawing people into debates is like a drug or sex for them. Their goal is to cause you to do or say something incriminating or embarrassing. If you do, it gives them a morbid sense of satisfaction and victory.
Protect your privacy. Trolls and cyberstalkers love to invade the privacy of others. Never respond to information received from unverified sources, especially extreme or inappropriate flattery, requests, or criticism. If in doubt, keep copies of questionable correspondence and comments.
Only participate in legitimate discussions. Confident, informed and well-adjusted people know how to discuss and debate an issue without turning it into a bloody battle. Remember, you control the situation. If you suspect the person you are debating or corresponding with might be an Internet crazy, walk away and never look back.